When you first got your license, you got behind the wheel assuming that most people try to follow the rules of the road when they drive. But the first time you rolled up to a four-way stop sign and watched someone accelerate out of turn, you realized: Many drivers ditch driving etiquette the moment they leave the DMV. This bothers you, and it should! Not only is it just plain rude, but it makes driving more dangerous and difficult for everyone else.
Or maybe you’re a long-time driver wondering if you’re the person offending others on the road. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate some of your driving habits to make every commute to work a little smoother.
Either way, here’s a quick refresher on some common vehicle driving etiquette:
We all know the feeling of helplessly squinting against someone else’s high beams. As the oncoming vehicle gets closer, you wait for them to switch to low beams. If they don’t, you’ll have to steady your hands on the wheel and avert your eyes until they pass.
Don’t be this person. While high beams are useful for rural driving, open highways or certain types of weather, they are not optimal for use in nearby traffic. As DMV.org writes, “Be sure to switch off your high beams when you see an approaching vehicle. High beams make it difficult for other drivers to see the road.”
In fact, some states have laws regarding switching from high to low beams when other vehicles approach. It’s not just courteous and safe; it may spare you a citation.
Using the Blinker
How are other drivers supposed to know what your next move is if you don’t use your blinker? While you might know that you’re planning to switch lanes or make a turn, others can’t read your mind.
What are the consequences of drivers neglecting to use their turn signals? One study from the Society of Automotive Engineers shows that neglecting to use turn signals properly may cause as many as two million accidents per year in the U.S. and occur 750 billion times annually.
The moral of the story: Use your turn signals before changing lanes or completing turns. And if you change your mind, turn it off as quickly as possible so other drivers can react accordingly. You may just cut down on the risk of a multi-vehicle crash for yourself and others.
Sometimes merging onto the highway means anxiously hoping that the drivers already on the highway will let you join. Mistimed merging can lead to scary situations—from getting rear-ended on the on-ramp if you have to slam on your breaks to getting scraped against the guardrail if you have to dodge an oncoming vehicle.
If you’re the merger, you need to get up to speed so you match the flow of traffic. As the National Motorists Association points out, pulling out into traffic that’s going 20, 30 or 40 miles-per-hour faster than you can cause a dangerous accident. You’ll also be delaying the cars behind you. Use the merge lane as a chance to accelerate and match traffic; then check frequently to make sure that you’ve found an open spot and can make a safe merge.
If you’re already on the highway and see that someone is trying to merge, move over to the left if it’s safe to do so. If you absolutely can’t switch lanes, either speed up or slow down so the merging car has a comfortable cushion to enter the highway.
Unlike overt driving habits, you have no way of knowing if other motorists have insurance—until you get into an accident. The Insurance Research Council found that uninsured driver claims totaled $2.6 billion in 2012. This can end up raising the premiums for all drivers across the board.
It’s good etiquette (not to mention a legal requirement in most states) to have at least minimum liability coverage, although you may want to protect your vehicle with a collision or comprehensive plan. Taking the time to compare car insurance rates ahead of time will give you confidence on the road, regardless of whether other drivers are as thoughtful.
If we all follow basic driving etiquette, the roads will be a better place. We all have the power to prevent accidents (or at least a bout of road rage or two) by doing our part.